Consumer Reports: Diagnostic tests not for everyone

August 5, 2011 4:55:30 PM PDT
Heart disease is still the number one killer of adult Americans, so it's no surprise that sophisticated diagnostic tests are being heavily marketed. But Consumer Reports says that for many people, these expensive tests can be not only a waste of money but dangerous.

Websites for health care providers are promoting diagnostic heart tests, including expensive CT scans, and they're promoting them to just about anyone.

But Consumer Reports says most people with no symptoms should skip the cardiac CT scans.

"The likelihood of finding something harmful is too low to justify the dose of radiation you can get from a CT scan or its cost," said Dr. John Santa with Consumer Reports.

Electrocardiograms are another heart test that Consumer Reports says most people should skip if you don't have symptoms. An EKG can give a false positive, leading to more tests and unnecessary treatment. And Consumer Reports says one of those tests can be an angiogram, which can quickly lead to over treatment with angioplasty, a procedure that clears blockages in the arteries.

"This procedure is no more effective than medication in managing stable heart disease. And the procedure itself can trigger a heart attack," Dr. Santa said.

For people without symptoms, the simplest methods of determining the risk of heart disease are still the best -- monitoring your blood pressure, having a blood test to check your cholesterol and getting a glucose test for diabetes.

"If you do find preliminary signs of heart disease, ask your doctor about medications and changes in lifestyle that can help," Dr. Santa said.

Simple dietary changes, like less fat and more vegetables and fruit, along with regular exercise and a weight-loss program may be all you need.

Of course, if you do experience symptoms like chest pain or sudden shortness of breath, it's important to call 9-1-1 immediately. Then you should chew an uncoated aspirin, which can help dissolve blood clots.

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